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Raging river hampers search for bodies of Yosemite hikers

July 21, 2011 |  1:37 pm

Search-and-rescue teams continued to scour the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park on Thursday for the bodies of three hikers who were swept away over the popular Vernal Fall this week.

But treacherous river conditions, due to a larger-than-normal snowpack this year, have limited the search to foot patrols, park officials said, and it could be weeks -- even months –- before the victims are found.

Photos: Four seasons in Yosemite

"There's so much water and so much churning and so much power behind that water that it would just be completely unsafe to insert park rangers and search-and-rescue divers into the water. You wouldn't be able to see anything," said park spokeswoman Kari Cobb. "That area of the river is extremely powerful, even in late summer, you can't go swimming in that area. It's just a portion that's always rough and always tumultuous."

Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca; Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto; and Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock, were with a church group on a day trip to the park. After hiking up the Mist Trail to the top of the 317-foot waterfall, witnesses said, the three victims were among several members of the group who ignored posted signs and warnings from other hikers and climbed over a metal-bar barricade into the water.

They were about 25 feet from the edge of the waterfall when, witnesses said, Badal slipped. A second person tried to rescue her and then a third tried to save the other two. All three were swept over the waterfall.

More than 30 people searched for the victims Tuesday and Wednesday, Cobb said. That number was scaled back to about 20 on Thursday, including help from Marin County. They will actively continue their efforts throughout the weekend, Cobb said, but after that, rangers would wait for more favorable water conditions –- lower water levels and warmer temperatures -– before sending teams out.

So far, Cobb said, searchers have covered up to three-fourths of a mile downstream from the base of the waterfall. At that point, a large amount of boulders and other obstacles would have most likely stopped the bodies from traveling farther downstream.


After waterfall deaths, Yosemite officials renew warnings

Yosemite waterfall deaths: Witness watched in horror as three were swept away

Chain-reaction rescue killed three at Yosemite

-- Kate Mather

Photo: Tony and Virginia Badal, parents of Ramina Badal, are escorted into a vigil service at the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East in Ceres, Calif., on Wednesday. Ramina Badal, 21, is among the three people presumed dead. Photo credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press